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H Story (Nobuhiro Suwa) 2002


    Nobuhiro Suwa’s intimate yet ambitious pseudo-documentary H Story self reflexively chronicles the filming of a remake of Alain Resnais’ French New Wave milestone Hiroshima, Mon Amour entitled H Story. Despite being made by a Japanese director, the film successfully evokes the feel of the New Wave’s films, suggesting that, as the Cahiers critics suggested, cinema might have indeed become a universal language. Many of the stylistic elements that make those classic French films so distinctive, such as the inclusion of documentary stills, titles with quotations, sound editing that sometimes fades away, and romantic discussions by lovers lounging around in bed, have a resurgence here. The movie is quite concerned with the subjectivity of memory, and the interviews that its unseen camera operator has with the members of the production seem a calculated attempt to keep the details of this troubled production from flitting away. It wants to document this failure so we can learn from its mistakes. 

    Like Olivier Assayas’ masterful Irma Vep, this film uses the backdrop of a dubious remake to give a forum in which the director’s and actors’ struggles can be explored. Again, this seems as self-serving in a way as auteur theory originally did. If films are made to constantly, and often distractingly, call attention to the fact that “someone” directs them, then that is invariably going to focus the shift of audience attention from the subject matter at hand and onto the director, resulting in fame for those behind the camera. Surely, an act of cinematic hubris such as the attempt to redo Resnais’ oft-acknowledged masterpiece seems an attempt to leap into the limelight (much like Gus van Sant’s Psycho do-over did to most), and that the film’s director, played by Suwa himself, approaches the remake as he does, using the original script with no changes to the dialogue, makes the enterprise feel even more dubious. H Story suggests that good cinema has the power to rewrite history for us (recalling Woodrow Wilson’s famous reaction to The Birth of a Nation in which he called it “history writ with lightning”). Suwa notes that although he had grown up in Hiroshima, he had no particular impression of the city until he saw Hiroshima, Mon Amour. After viewing that film, he couldn’t disassociate its images from his memories of the city. Movies, because of editing, can remove the boring parts from a story, and the powerful, omniscient images that they provide, due to their succession, can sometimes feel more real than life itself.


    With this attitude toward a film’s authorship, one can understand why New Wave directors resent otherwise hailed works such as Speilberg’s Schindler’s List: when a director attempts to stage history again, it becomes more about the filmmaker than the event itself, which is a great disservice to the history of that event. Like the illusion of motion that fuels the artifice that is cinema, the notion that a film can truly recreate history is a lie that we’re sometimes willing to buy into. That feeling of indebtedness toward history haunts H Story in scenes such as the one in which we see Beatrice (the lead actress on this project) reject the lecture given by a tour guide at one of Hiroshima’s art museums. When she finds out that the museum has commissioned a set of fifty works to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, she scoffs. She has previously described a firsthand account of an encounter that she had at another museum that serves as evidence that the city has recovered from the shock of the bombing. The suggestion that people are arbitrarily reliving the past and exploiting it under the pretense of creating art strikes her as an affront. The fine line between reverence and overindebtedness seems to be where the film wants to straddle its ideal approach toward history. Veneration, the film says, is useless without the inspiration to reinterpret past events in order to make them relevant.

     Perhaps, because of these high-minded concerns, the film doesn’t exactly feel “fun” (a problem that significantly never struck the superior Irma Vep, which raised similar issues), nor is it conventionally pretty or exciting. The Japanese director of H Story can only deliver stage directions to his French actress through a translator, requiring a downright Kubrickian number of takes in one scene, and a theme emerges in which connections tragically become lost in the translation. Although the “fake” Suwa’s concept for his remake could probably result in a worthwhile picture, if done correctly, his inability to translate his thoughts into cinematic expression is his failing. The hope of romance that flitters into the picture is doomed to fail because of this same lack of communication. There’s never a moment in which the film’s characters see eye to eye on things, which results in a dour, unresolved feeling (how very French…).  Suwa’s inability to sufficiently express his vision to his crew results in the failure of the fictional H Story. Luckily, the actual film doesn’t suffer from the same failure to get its complex ideas across. 



Jeremy Heilman